Americans are using more power than ever, a key consideration for President Bush and Congress as they begin hammering out a national energy policy.
Mr. Bush emphasized more oil drilling and expanded use of nuclear power Thursday when he introduced his plan to deal with the nations soaring power costs.
Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, have suggested tax breaks and price caps to deal with the energy crunch.
For both sides, the heart of the problem lies in a simple fact: There are more Americans than ever, and they are using more power, although energy resources remain limited.
“There is no magic bullet, no single thing to be done that will solve the challenges we face,” David Cook, general counsel for the industry-sponsored North American Electric Reliability Council, said in testimony Wednesday before the U.S. Senates Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Americans use energy to power their homes and businesses and for travel. Hot water, household appliances, computers, manufacturing equipment and planes, trains and automobiles all depend on some form of energy.
Power consumption has risen dramatically in the United States in the past 50 years, according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA), an independent Energy Department agency that tracks power production and consumption.
The EIA said Americans last year used 98.5 quadrillion British thermal units of energy, or about 18 times more than the amount they consumed in 1950. BTUs are the standard system used to measure power.
Thirty-six percent of all energy consumed in the United States last year was used for manufacturing and other industrial purposes, the EIA said. Twenty-seven percent was used to operate the nations transportation system, 20 percent was used to power homes and 16 percent was used to power general businesses.
The nations rising population — and Americans growing personal incomes — contribute to the increase in energy consumption, said EIA economist Crawford Honeycutt.
For example, more Americans can afford to travel now, which has led to a jump in transportation-related power use, he said.
“There are a lot of economic factors that drive energy consumption,” Mr. Honeycutt said.
What we use
The nation overwhelmingly uses fossil fuels — such as coal, natural gas and petroleum — for its power. Last year, Americans consumed 83.8 quadrillion BTUs of fossil fuels, up from 69.9 quadrillion BTUs in 1980, the EIA said.
Of all the petroleum consumed in the world in 1999, the United States consumed 26 percent, the EIA said. It consumed about 25 percent of all natural gas and 22 percent of all coal.
Eight quadrillion BTUs of nuclear power was consumed in 2000, up from 2.7 quadrillion BTUs in 1980, according to the EIA.
Almost 7 quadrillion BTUs of “renewable” energy, such as solar and wind power, were consumed last year — up from 5.8 quadrillion BTUs in 1980.
Texas consumes 14 percent of the nations energy a year, more than any other state, according to the EIA.
Virginia is ranked 15th, and Maryland is ranked 25th, with each consuming fewer than 4 quadrillion BTUs annually, the EIA said. The District is ranked 50th — ahead of Vermont — with fewer than 2 quadrillion BTUs consumed annually.
California is ranked second in total energy consumption, consuming about 8 quadrillion BTUs a year. The states power crisis, which has produced blackouts and soaring utility rates for customers, is expected to continue through the summer and take a major toll on the California economy.
U.S. energy production has risen with demand, although the country has increasingly turned to other nations for power since the energy crisis of the 1970s.
The nation produced 57.6 quadrillion BTUs of fossil fuels, 8 quadrillion BTUs of nuclear power and 6.5 quadrillion BTUs of renewable energy last year, according to the EIA.
In 1999, fossil fuels accounted for 80 percent of total energy production in the United States and were valued at an estimated $94 billion, the EIA said.
Coal remains the most popular fossil fuel mined in the United States. The nation produced 22.8 quadrillion BTUs last year, up from 18.5 quadrillion BTUs in 1980.
“Coal is like your old friend who is out of sight and out of mind, but who has been around for a long time,” said Steve Miller, president of the Center for Energy and Economic Development, a coal industry trade group.
The amount of power mined in the United States is staggering, but it is not enough to satisfy demand for energy within U.S. borders. For example, Americans consumed 27.2 quadrillion more BTUs of fossil fuels than it was able to produce last year.
Crude oil — which is used for gasoline, diesel fuel and a host of other products — is the most common form of energy shipped into this country. Oil and petroleum products were imported at the rate of 10.5 million barrels a day in 1999, according to the most recent statistics from the EIA.
Surprisingly, most of the oil and petroleum products imported into the United States comes from Canada, which shipped 1,539 barrels a day in 1999, according to EIA. Venezuela shipped 1,493 barrels a day that year, and Saudi Arabia shipped 1,478 barrels.
The United States does not belong to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel that adjusts oil output to balance supply and demand in the international market. The 11 countries that make up OPEC, including Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, supply about 40 percent of the worlds oil output.
Each form of energy the United States mines has benefits and drawbacks for the environment.
For example, nuclear power doesnt contribute to air pollution, although it generates nuclear waste. The government is exploring a proposal to build an underground nuclear-waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles from Las Vegas in the Nevada desert.
Wind power is regarded as environmentally benign, but it works best in regions where there is a lot of wind, such as California, Texas and the Great Plains.
Among the most significant environmental effects of energy production and consumption are emissions of “greenhouse gases,” according to the EIA.
Gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous dioxide block infrared radiation from the Earth to space and retain the captured heat in the atmosphere — creating global warming, the EIA said.
The United States also has untapped sources of new energy, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Mr. Bush said yesterday he wants to open 8 percent of the pristine territory to drilling.
Environmentalists oppose the idea. They cite U.S. Geological Survey estimates, which suggest the refuge would produce only a six-month supply of oil.
“Drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge isnt an answer,” said Daniel Becker, director of global warming for the Sierra Club, a national environmental group.
Instead, the auto industry should build cars and trucks that go farther on a gallon of gas, Mr. Becker said.
The Bush plan also calls for consideration of drilling for oil offshore and under the Great Lakes. An EIA spokesman said other options could include the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Rocky Mountains, although restrictions on drilling in those areas probably would not be lifted for years.
Mr. Bush also proposed cutting through licensing red tape to speed expansions of power plants, refineries and transmission lines. No refineries have been built in the United States in decades, and the existing facilities have to formulate gasoline during the summer to clean-air regulations — which vary depending on the region.
Americans overwhelmingly use fossil fuels to power their homes, businesses and cars, but alternative sources like nuclear power and solar and wind energy could become more common.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney has said he would like to see an increase in the percentage of electricity generated by nuclear power. Americas 103 nuclear plants now provide about 20 percent of the nations electricity.
“It is safe, the technology gets better all the time and it has the great advantage of not adding any to greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide emissions,” said Mr. Cheney, who is Mr. Bushs chief adviser on energy matters.
The vice president has recommended renewing the Price-Anderson Act, which exempts nuclear power companies from unlimited liability in the case of nuclear catastrophe.
If it is not renewed, he said, “Nobodys going to invest in nuclear power plants.”
Wind energy, meanwhile, could supply about 20 percent of the nations electricity, according to Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratory, an environmental studies organization.
The American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, said 35,000 wind turbines generate power worldwide. In the United States, wind-produced energy is expected to produce 2,500 megawatts of electricity this year, a 60 percent increase from the 1,500 megawatts produced last year.
One megawatt provides power for about 1,000 homes.
“Its a small industry, but the outlook is encouraging,” said Christine Real de Azua, spokeswoman for the group.